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Basements In Texas

Basements In Texas

Texas has frequent tornadoes, boiling summers and freezing winters — all conditions that make a basement an ideal escape from the weather. Plus, a basement is convenient storage space. So why do so few homes in Austin have basements? It’s Expensive and Unnecessary Building codes usually require that home foundations be built below the frost line to prevent burst pipes or foundation cracking during freezes. In the north, the frost line is five to six feet below the ground, which means that builders have to dig down to the basement level anyway. In Texas, the frost line is only about a foot below the ground, which is about the typical depth of a concrete foundation. Unless a home is being custom-built, builders simply don’t want to take on the added expense and risk of digging out a basement if one isn’t required. Texas Basements Flood Easily In most of Austin and surrounding Texas, the water table is only a few feet below the ground. To protect against flooding, most Texas basements need to have special water sealing along with sump pumps. Even then, there is still a risk of flooding, which drives up insurance premiums. The added construction and insurance costs cause most local residents to pass on a basement. Texas Soil Is Not Basement-Friendly In the north, basements are typically built in homes on rolling hills with soft, dry soil. Austin’s geology is the opposite of ideal for basement construction. Some areas are hard limestone that’s very difficult and expensive to cut through to dig out a basement. The remaining areas have an unstable type of clay that swells significantly when it rains and shrinks during the dry season. To withstand the forces of the clay expanding and contracting, basements need additional reinforcement, and the extra costs make adding a basement less worth it. Buyers Don’t Expect Basements in Texas Even when they don’t think about the scientific reasons Austin doesn’t have basements, most buyers don’t expect to find a basement in a Texas home. This means builders won’t feel they need to add basements to attract buyers, and homeowners won’t see adding a basement as a way to increase their property values.
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Basements In Texas

I’ve reviewed this post and feel compelled to add 40+ years of experience and facts in response to it. The author offers up 4 reasons for a lack of basements in Texas – let’s review:Rock – false. Rock’s presence has only affected cost twice out of hundreds of basements done to date. Rock exist on a site to site basic and therefore is not a general reason for lack of basements in Texas.Water table – false. Once again ground water is a site by site issue if at all. We’ve seen 2.5 gallons per minute of water coming into an excavation. That project has been dry for years due to proper drainage and management.Soil movement & frost line – false. Soil movement is a result of moisture changes in the dirt. Freeze is only one – rain, wind, and sun cause moisture changes also. Up north they acknowledge the potential and know how deep to put a foundation to eliminate damage. The Texas soil moves due to summer drought shrinking the ground and the winter rains expanding the soil. So, the issue in Texas is that it’s not understood. Texas drought will cause foundation damage down to between 30” and 36”. The typical Texas “foundation,” which is a shallow slab, usually only penetrates the dirt less than 16” resulting in potential damage. Therefore, I label soil movement in Texas a “3’ drought line.”If Texas would identify and acknowledge the 3’ drought line and built deeper foundations on footers the foundation failure rate in Texas would dissipate in new home construction immediately.Tom WerlingFounder, President of North Texas Basements, Inc
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Basements In Texas

Tom Werling builds basements in the Dallas area. Credit Christopher Connelly / KERA Meteorologists say basements are one of the best places to take shelter during a tornado. But for some reason, Texas has a woeful lack of basements, according to KUT Austin. Some say the lack of cellars is due to the expansive soil in Texas. When Texas dirt gets wet, it swells. Then it shrinks again in the summer. That makes building basements difficult. Another reason for the lack of underground shelter: geography. When northern houses are built, contractors have to put foundations down below the freeze line. Since they’re already down there, putting a basement in isn’t as costly as it is in the south. One final reason for the dearth of cellars involves circular reasoning. Since there aren’t many basements in Texas, homebuyers don’t expect them. But now that more northerners are moving to the Lone Star State, they’re requesting basements. And builders are obliging them.
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Meteorologists say basements are one of the best places to take shelter during a tornado. But for some reason, Texas has a woeful lack of basements, according to KUT Austin. Some say the lack of cellars is due to the expansive soil in Texas. When Texas dirt gets wet, it swells. Then it shrinks again in the summer. That makes building basements difficult.
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These and other issues are definitely part of the reason that certain areas of Oklahoma don’t have basements. My mother’s house has a concrete storm cellar and droughts and earthquakes have rendered it useless. I know a lot of people with similar damage to basements. Including the house of the local guy who builds basements!We signed up for a raffle here a few months ago to win a storm cellar. They said we couldn’t win it unless we had a house, garage or shed with a concrete slab. Then they said that it wouldn’t matter because we are in a flood zone, so they wouldn’t install it anyway!Good info here. I know they are working all the time to improve materials so that basements and cellars don’t have structural issues. Let’s hope they make it affordable for everyone too!
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2) Expansive Clay Soils of Texas Shrink and SwellTexas was formerly under the Gulf of Mexico, and a lot of the eastern half of the state has what are called “expansive soils,” a kind of clay that heaves and flexes and plays havoc even when houses are placed on slab foundations. These clays expand up to 30% when wet, and dry quickly. Texas homeowners are known to water their lawns on hot, dry days to try to prevent their foundations from cracking. The pressure exerted by these swelling soils can exert up to 15,000 pounds of pressure per square foot! (Source: “Soil Issues and Residential Construction in Texas” from this site.) That makes it very difficult and expensive to engineer basements for Texas houses.
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Texas was formerly under the Gulf of Mexico, and a lot of the eastern half of the state has what are called “expansive soils,” a kind of clay that heaves and flexes and plays havoc even when houses are placed on slab foundations. These clays expand up to 30% when wet, and dry quickly. Texas homeowners are known to water their lawns on hot, dry days to try to prevent their foundations from cracking. The pressure exerted by these swelling soils can exert up to 15,000 pounds of pressure per square foot! (Source: “Soil Issues and Residential Construction in Texas” from this site.) That makes it very difficult and expensive to engineer basements for Texas houses.
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Interesting article, I too always wondered why there were no basements in Texas. Like you said in the North many people have basements, which is not always the greatest thing. You always have to worry about moisture problems and if you have a yard that slopes towards your house, all that water rushes towards the foundation, thus sometimes causing problems. Also there are problems with mold and mildew in the basement. However if there is a tornado, basements can be a life saver. Thank you so much again for this article.
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Soil movement & frost line – false. Soil movement is a result of moisture changes in the dirt. Freeze is only one – rain, wind, and sun cause moisture changes also. Up north they acknowledge the potential and know how deep to put a foundation to eliminate damage. The Texas soil moves due to summer drought shrinking the ground and the winter rains expanding the soil. So, the issue in Texas is that it’s not understood. Texas drought will cause foundation damage down to between 30” and 36”. The typical Texas “foundation,” which is a shallow slab, usually only penetrates the dirt less than 16” resulting in potential damage. Therefore, I label soil movement in Texas a “3’ drought line.”
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I’ve Always WonderedMy mother is a Texan, and I remember sheltering in an inner hallway of my grandparents’ house while tornado sirens went off. It was pretty clear to me at the time that we were not safe if the house took a direct hit: the walls were too flimsy, and the easy-peel roof was right over our heads. I have always wondered why homes in Texas don’t have basements as emergency protection against tornadoes. Tornadoes churn across the surface and move quickly; they skip over ditches and holes. After the April 2012 spate of tornadoes that hit Dallas suburbs — and the Dallas airport while my uncle was in it — I once again started wondering. Basements are the best way to shelter from tornadoes, and yet many parts of Tornado Alley don’t have them. I’m not an architect or a home builder, but I’m a compulsive researcher. So I’ve been scouring for trustworthy answers from actual builders and architects. I hope the answers I’ve found here are right, but since I’m not an expert, I’d welcome any real homebuilders from Texas double-checking me and leaving a note in the guestbook below.